Monday, March 26, 2007

Q&A: Where Will We Plant A Church?

If you've been reading this blog regularly, you know that I'm answering common questions that have been put to me about the vision for our church: To become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. So far, I've tried to clarify a couple issues regarding why the creation of new congregations will make a difference, and our definition of the word "church." This week, I want to start tackling some of the "curiosity" questions, starting with Where?

First off, I just want to be clear that none of these questions that I'll be addressing over the next few weeks have been completely settled. Many of these are "down the road," but it is still good to be thinking about them now and praying for God's guidance and wisdom regarding these issues.

When we look at a question like, "Where will we plant a church?" there are a couple factors that need to be taken into account:

  • Where is there not currently an effective, Bible-teaching church?
  • Where will we have the greatest opportunities for success?
  • Where do we already have a significant concentration of members?

Honestly, I don't know the answer to the first question. However, statistically speaking, it's likely to be in an area of low popluation density. Small communities tend to have very few churches. Often there will only be a handful, none of which is particularly effective in reaching their community for Christ.

As to the second question, the answer again is very likely one of the small communities surrounding Jackson, rather than a neighborhood inside the city itself. There are several reasons for this.

  1. It's easier to make a big splash in a small pond.
  2. Small towns are often ignored by church planters, so most of the churches in those communities are well into their life cycle (i.e., plateaued or declining).
  3. Churches planted in small towns or rural communities have a higher success rate (measured by whether they are still in existence after 5 years) than those planted in urban or suburban environments.
  4. Those who live in smaller communities--even among the unchurched--tend to be more interested in "traditional values", such as family, responsibility, integrity, and work, making them more receptive to the church's message.
  5. Smaller communities have lower standards of excellence, and are more accepting of the limited resources of a small, start-up church.
  6. The city of Jackson has a more diversified racial make-up, including many African-Americans and a growing Latino element. While God absolutely cares about other ethnic groups, a similar cultural background to the target area is an important factor for success. I, for one, would love to see a multi-racial church--and maybe God will lead us that way down the road--but I don't believe it would be wise to target a different ethnic group for our very first church plant, as it decreases our chances of success.
  7. There's more competition in the city. I'm not talking about other churches--they're our partners. Rather, I mean things competing for the time, money, attention, and allegiance of our target: movies, shopping, sports, clubs, events, restaurants.

So that takes us to our third question--where do we already have members? Interestingly, very few of our attenders live close to the church. Most of us drive 10 minutes or more to get here. Coincidentally, very few of us come from the city of Jackson. We seem to have 2 major population centers outside of our immediate area--north, and east. So we may be looking at planting our first church near Rives Junction/Pleasant Lake or Grass Lake/Michigan Center.

As I said, no decisions have been made. This is just thinking out loud right now; it's quite possible that God will lead us to plant a church right in Jackson. However, we believe it's most likely that it will be somewhere else. Please be in prayer as this conversation moves forward that we will follow God's leading and wisdom.

I'd be very interested in any thoughts that any of you may have about all this:

  • Is this surprising? Why or why not?
  • Does it make sense? Why or why not?
  • What is your take on planting a church in a smaller community?

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